In Indonesia, MCC helps provide refuge from stigma of AIDSBy Christy Reed Mennonite Central Committee
JAYAPURA, Indonesia — On Saturday evenings, Eka sometimes takes a break from life’s difficulties to watch a TV soap opera with friends at a support group shelter in Indonesia’s Papua province.
A 28-year-old single mother, Eka — not her real name — is one of more than 80 people served by the Jayapura Support Group, a Mennonite Central Committee partner organization that provides food packages, financial assistance and emotional support for local people living with AIDS.
For Eka, the shelter is an important home away from home. Most of the time, Eka and her 4-year-old daughter live with her parents and extended family. But it is a stressful situation for Eka because they do not know she has AIDS.
“My father has always viewed me as the black sheep of the family,” she said. “He almost never talks to me.”
AIDS carries a heavy stigma in Papua. Many members of the support group have not told friends and family that they are HIV-positive. However, the support group’s two volunteer coordinators encourage members not to be ashamed of themselves or any past mistakes.
Eka’s face is worn, and her thin body seems aged beyond its 28 years. But her eyes are bright as she holds her daughter, whose name is Life.
“She has been tested negative for HIV,” Eka said with pride.
With funds from MCC, the group provides its members with monthly packages of food and money for travel to a hospital in Jayapura for AIDS treatment. Also, Eka received a small loan from MCC to support her work as a street vendor.
Perhaps more important, Eka has found the emotional support she needs. At the shelter, she shares a dog-eared paper where she has poured her heart out in handwritten lines.
It says: “In the eyes of the community, I am something foreign that must be kept away from, must remain untouched. I disgust people. My life tosses and turns like waves in the sea. To whom can I go?”
Eka’s journal continues: “In the midst of this confusion, heartbreak and isolation, there shines a ray of light that gives me and others living with AIDS hope and brings to life again my once-dormant feelings of self-worth and my will to live. It would seem that Jesus Christ still loves me… .
“God is still a loving God, and so he gave me a place of refuge, a place to share and mourn all the sadness and pain that is felt by we who live with AIDS, by we who are put aside, ignored. In this place of refuge, I have discovered that there are still human beings who care about me.”
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